The Japanese eatery in St Nicks Market is spreading the dumpling love
In 2015 owners Guy and Vic Siddall were honeymooning in Japan, and the trip proved to be rather more monumental than expected – inspiration for Eatchu came from a Tokyo gyoza shop.
The Siddalls worked out that street food involved “picking one thing and doing it really well”, and so with some YouTube-based research into the basics of gyoza making and the purchase of a Japanese-made gyoza crimping machine, Eatchu was born.
It would turn out that Bristolians were to fall head over heels with the ‘happy little dumplings’ as Eatchu calls them, giving cause for the eatery to graduate from a temporary market stall to a permanent St Nicks fixture. It’s in The Old Mess Room on Exchange Avenue, one of the little side streets off Corn Street you may only discover by chance, but if the daily lunch numbers are anything to go by – they’ve more than doubled from 40 to around 90 in recent months – then people have no problem finding it. There’s a loyalty card scheme, and regular gyoza masterclasses have earned the restaurant even more fans who have left rave reviews all over TripAdvisor.
Eatchu is as much about the atmosphere as the food – a flock of red origami birds (courtesy of Japonica in the Exchange Hall) hangs suspended above the tiny kitchen into which three chefs are squeezed, the fantastic smell of cooking gyoza fills the air, and the team hands out their dumplings with genuine jubilance to an ever-lengthening queue stretching out the door.
They’ve absolutely nailed Japanese ‘kawaii’ – a distinctive red logo features an anthropomorphised dumpling puckering its lips, the shop is filled with an array of cutesy knick-knacks and cheerful little notices on the walls remind customers to free up their seats once they’re done eating.
We perch on a bench to wait, our noses literally inches away from the sizzling and steaming in the kitchen, before we’re called over to collect our dumplings, which are perfectly crispy on the outside and stuffed with juicy filling. What is a relatively plain and on-the-go snack in Japan becomes a spectacularly flavoursome ceremony here – the way Eatchu’s dumplings are drizzled in kenko mayo and tonkatsu sauce isn’t typically Japanese, Guy tells me, but the aim was to create a more substantial meal for Bristol’s lunch-hunters.
And it’s definitely working – in providing both vegan and free-range meat options, as well as a variety of extras including miso soup, soba noodles and crispy fried onions, Eatchu covers all bases with finesse. The kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine to make as many gyoza as possible within the four-hour timeframe, and yet there’s not a hint of production line about the place.
A generous serving of sticky rice comes dressed with sauces, seaweed and sweet red ginger, and the lightly-salted edamame beans are a palate-cleanser of sorts in between mouthfuls of tender pork or roasted broccoli gyoza.
Excitingly, having just acquired a new prep kitchen, from February Guy and Vic will be opening up the restaurant on Tuesdays and soon after they’ll start to sell key Japanese cooking ingredients instore.
Look out for the Eatchu gazebo at various Bristol-based festivals this summer, but till then you can count on Guy and Vic’s team for a most excellent lunch. Itadakimasu!